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Chaska's adorable!

  • Karsuman
  • 12/30/2012 02:31 AM
Preface: In the interest of full disclosure, I was requested to do this review by Harmonic. It is also worth noting that this is at least in part for the benefit of the authors of the game, so a couple spoilers are likely to slip through. You've been warned.

Claret Spencer is a prodigious airship mechanic living out her days in New Stormrook. Even though the city is under the oppression of the titular Skyborn, Claret herself is fairly content with her lifestyle - she gets to do what she loves best and apparently gets paid well enough doing it.

This all changes one day when she meets one Sullivan Chesterford, dashing heir-apparent to the highly successful Chesterford company. This meeting sets off a series of events that will change the lives of Claret and Sullivan, but the lives of everyone in New Stormrook, be they skyborn, human or half-breed.

So let’s get to that review, shall we?

1. The World

New Stormrook and the regions immediately surrounding it constitute the entirety of Skyborn’s world. The city is structured like a tower with several ‘tiers’. The skyborn live in luxury at the top, while the humans and half-breeds are stuck in the lower tiers - your position on the tower is both a literal and figurative representation of your lot in life. It’s a pretty neat concept, really. I ended up wanting to learn more about the city than anything else by the end of the game

However, one of the game’s largest problems is that we are stuck outside the city for large stretches of time trying to resurrect an ancient anti-magic golem - maybe half the game, or a bit less, in fact. We go through typical RPG dungeon mainstays - a desert, a volcano, a forest - and while these kinds of locales are comfortably familiar, the setting is ‘steampunk’ and they are not at all steampunk-y. As a result of all that wandering, by the time my party stopped getting sent outside the city, I realized how little I truly knew about New Stormrook and found myself getting lost a lot trying to navigate it.

2. The Narrative

Skyborn is a rebels vs. empire plot with a small sense of scale. Your primary goal for a vast majority of the game is simply to help a group of skyborn/human half-breeds escape imprisonment - toppling the skyborn or killing a tyrant isn’t really the goal. The main cast is a small, proactive bunch and for the most part well-characterized in spite of a relatively limited amount of dialogue. The few side quests there are don’t really expand on the story or characters at all, unfortunately, mostly serving as mildly humorous filler.

As mentioned in the previous section, a lot of time is spent outside the city. This comes back to haunt the story itself as we never do get to learn all that much about what the skyborn race is really like in the modern day outside of them behaving like assholes, or the struggles of the citizenry beyond our initial impression - when we finally do get to talk to civilian skyborn NPCs, for example, it is revealed that they do in fact have differing opinions on humans and half-breeds are not all of likemind. It would’ve been nice to explore things like that, but it was right before the game’s finale, so it was too little, too late.

Speaking of the finale, the game’s plot goes into crazy overdrive near the end, with very mixed results. I am generally of the opinion that things tend to benefit from being shorter rather than longer, but in the case of Skyborn it could have used another two-three dungeons to really allow the characters’ to fully develop. The finale just ends up feeling rushed, which is a shame.

3. The Characters

So we have: Claret, a tsundere with goggles and a wrench, Sullivan, a charming scoundrel, Corwin, a reserved half-breed sorcerer, Alda, a redemption-seeking skyborn, and Chaska, who mostly sticks around to be adorable. The bad guy is a fellow named Dhacian, who pretty much plays the role of ambitious, manipulative jerk. Basically, your standard colorful mix of character archetypes and tropes.

A lot of the more entertaining interactions come from Claret and Sullivan, who behave like your typical bickering ‘non-couple’ with loads of unresolved sexual tension: Claret will say something snotty or off-key about Sullivan, Sullivan will make light of what Claret says, then Claret gets frustrated or embarrassed. It’s a fun enough dynamic and they are entertaining to watch together, which is good because Corwin and Alda are both rather dry. Alda is mostly plot device and comes in far too late for the player to really get attached, so there’s something of an excuse, but Corwin is a different matter..

Corwin in particular has issues because his place in the story is pretty much over after he is rescued at level 5 or so - the only character development he has reveals him as somewhat of a hypocrite when he is disgusted at Chaska’s appearance, in spite of being loathed by humans and skyborn alike himself due to his half-breed status. He is later revealed to have reversed his opinion of Chaska - he suddenly feels sorry for her when she is mistreated by the rest of the party, but that comes out of nowhere, too. I was never able to get a good read on him; I felt like I didn’t really know or understand him by the end of the game.

Chaska is fun, but she doesn’t really contribute all that much to the plot - at least until she hijacks the it in grand fashion at the very end of the game, turning it from ‘save the half-breeds’ into ‘save the world’, something which still confounds me. Really though, most of the characters have strange character development and consistency problems near the end. As mentioned in a previous section, I largely blame this on the game’s short length - either the conflicts the characters have to face are introduced far too late and resolved in far too short a time (Sullivan, Chaska, Alda) or they are far too simplistic and subtle for us to notice or care (Corwin). Only Claret seems to escape this.

4. The Gameplay

Skyborn uses a fairly plain first person battle system, but the threat system mixes it up a tad; the character with the most threat at the time of an enemy’s turn is the one that gets attacked. For most of the game this means making sure Sullivan has the most threat, as he is far more durable than anyone else until Alda joins. When she joins it’s pretty much a toss-up, but Sullivan still has the best defensive skills so I just kept using him, You also can use a certain set of items known as augments to enhance your gear, which can make you significantly stronger, especially later in the game when you have access to the better stuff.

The party members fall into fairly straight-forward roles: A nuker (Claret), tanks (Sullivan, Alda), healer/support (Corwin), utility/disabler (Chaska). Assuming you play competently, battles typically always resolve in the same manner, which can get tiresome - the type of enemy may change which attacks are most effective, but that’s about it. The game is fairly easy, even on hard mode, and resource management is never an issue due to how cheap all the medicinal and food items are.

The skills you learn are determined by how you promote your characters. Each character has two promotion opportunities, and one optional ‘ultimate’ promotion available in the latter half of the game. Basically, you choose between two choices at each promotion except the last. These choices give a buff to a certain stat or attribute and give you a number of skills. Most of these decisions are really easy to make, as some are dramatically more useful than others. This is also the sole way you gain skills, and you are stuck with your first promotion for an enormous amount of time and up using the same skills in the exact same manner ad nauseam. The result is a poor sense of progression and, frankly, it just gets rather boring - especially if you are a masochist like me and kill everything you can.

As for the dungeons, they are simple, often include switch puzzles, and are easy to navigate. Enemies are present on the map and placed very kindly so if you do not wish to fight you can just walk right past them 95% of the time. They were neither offensively bad or very engaging. Just obstacles.

5. The Aesthetics

The original assets in the game are hard not to notice. The character art is solid, expressive and highly appealing. The game features some nice original graphics elsewhere as well, including a hand-drawn airship and enemy battlers. The battle interface and battle animations are lackluster and somewhat unappealing and could have used more work.

The music is a full custom soundtrack by Harmonic, as has come to be expected of his games, It’s high quality as usual, and each piece suits the scenes it is used in well. They come in the game download unencrypted so you can listen to them out of game as well if you like them.

The mapping is competent, but suffers somewhat from inconsistency. While I do not mind functional dungeons, a few of them feel like a totally different mapping philosophy was used to design when compared to the (relatively busy) city of New Stormrook.

6. The Summary

+ An interesting setting
+ Competent writing and some fun characters
+ Nice art and music
- The combat does not hold up well; easy even on hard mode
- Some questionable writing decisions late game

7. The Word

3.5 / 5

Fun, if flawed.

Even if she derailed the entire plot at the last possible second, Chaska's still pretty freaking adorable.


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Nice review! Gonna give this game a try.
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